Justice Reinvestment Initiative and Drug Court Programs Explained at BEAR Meeting

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At a recent Business Expansion and Retention (BEAR) meeting, members listened as Karen Dolan and Kara Cunningham from Four Corners Community Behavioral Health spoke about Justice Reinvestment Initiative
HB 348 as well as drug court programs in Carbon, Emery and Grand counties.

Dolan began the discussion by explaining the Justice Reinvestment Initiative as well as prison reform. According to Dolan, the United States houses the most prisoners per 100,000 population per country in the world. With only 5% of the population in the world, the U.S. house approximately 25% of the world’s prison population. An increase in prison populations throughout the country increased dramatically in the 1970s, just after President Richard Nixon launched the war on drugs. Since then, the U.S. state and federal prison population has increased over 800%.

According to the bill’s online summary, the Justice Reinvestment Initiative changes the penalty for a first or second conviction of possession of a controlled substance to a class A misdemeanor. The penalty for a third or subsequent conviction is a third degree felony. This encourages substance use disorder treatment in the community (where treatment is more effective) for non-violent offenders rather than incarceration.

“I’m excited about it,” Dolan said about the initiative. “This is huge. For 40 years, we have treated addiction as a crime. The disease of addiction is not a crime, it is a disease.”

Following Dolan’s presentation, Cunningham took some time to explain drug court programs in the tri-county area.

“Drug courts are the most effective justice intervention for treating drug-addicted people,” Cunningham began. In Carbon County alone, over 700 people participate in drug court. In Emery County, the number hovers around 25-30.

Felony and family drug court programs in the area provide intensive treatment and other services to become and stay clean and sober as well as hold people accountable by the drug court judge for meeting their obligations to the court, society, themselves and their families. Participants are regularly and randomly drug tested at least twice a week and are required to appear in court frequently for a judge to review their progress.

“Felony drug court is for people who are charged with felony drug charges and we want to divert them from being placed in prison. We want to provide them with treatment and supervision over a long period of time,” Cunningham explained. “Family drug court is for people who are on the brink of losing their children due to their drug use. We want to provide them with treatment and supervision over a long period of time.”

According to Cunningham, nationwide, for every $1 invested in drug court, taxpayers save as much as $3.36 in avoided criminal justice costs alone. Also nationwide, 75% of drug court graduates remain arrest-free at least two years after leaving the program.

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